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Space Weather Update: 09/12/2016

By, 09/12/2016

AURORAS AND A FIREBALL: On Sept. 11th, Alex Conu went outdoors to photograph auroras over the Lofoten Islands of Norway. He got more than he bargained for. "BAM!" he says. "This -8 magnitude fireball streaked across the sky."


For comparison, the fireball was about as bright as the crescent Moon. "There was a bit of fragmenting towards the end," says Conu. "Very beautiful."

The fireball won't be back tonight, Sept. 12th, but the auroras might. Earth is passing through a stream of solar wind filled with negative polarity (-Bz) magnetic fields. Such a solar wind stream can penetrate our planet's magnetic defenses, sparking geomagnetic storms and auroras. Aurora alerts: text or voice

Realtime Aurora Photo Gallery

MAGNIFICENT PROMINENCE: 93 million miles is a long way, but you wouldn't want to be any closer to the sun. Today's photo from Maximilian Teodorescu of Magurele, Romania, shows why:


"There is a magnificent prominence on the western limb of the sun," says Teodorescu, who inserted a picture of our planet for scale. "Today it showed its true height--almost 10 times taller than Earth itself."

Prominences are masses of hot plasma held above the surface of the sun by filaments of magnetism. Such structures are usually unstable and often collapse. This one has been intact for nearly two weeks, beating the odds. How long can it last? Amateur astronomers with backyard solar telescopes are encouraged to monitor developments.

Realtime Aurora Photo Gallery

A SPACE WEATHER BALLOON AT THE EDGE OF SPACE: On Friday, Sept. 2nd, and the students of Earth to Sky Calculus launched a research balloon from the slopes of Mt. Washington in New Hampshire. En route to measure radiation at the edge of space, the balloon's payload snapped this spherical image of the Atlantic Coast of Maine:

The balloon popped at an altitude of 118,000 feet, about 10 minutes after it took this picture. Parachuting back to Earth, the payload landed in a forest of tall trees not far from Tripp Pond, Maine, where a combined team of students from Southern Maine Community College and Earth to Sky Calculus recovered it for analysis.

This wasn't the only space weather balloon launched on Sept. 2nd. Earth to Sky students in California launched a second balloon at the same time. The transcontinental flight was part of an ongoing experiment to explore geographical variations in atmospheric radiation. Results? Here they are:


These profiles show the dose rate of secondary cosmic rays as a function of altitude over central California and southern Maine. Clearly, the atmosphere of Maine is more "radioactive." The reason can be found in the labels. The magnetic latitude in Maine (+54o) is higher than the magnetic latitude in California (+44o). In other words, Maine is closer to Earth's magnetic north pole where cosmic rays are more abundant.

These results are of interest to air travelers, atmospheric scientists, and operators of high-altitude drones, among others. In a few days we'll release an even bigger data set showing results from Chile, California, Oregon and Washington. Stay tuned.

More spherical images: (1) The launch site on the slopes of Mt. Washington, NH. (2) Emerging from the cloud layer over Mt. Washington, New Hampshire, the camera saw a ring of light in the clouds called a "glory."

Realtime Space Weather Photo Gallery

Realtime Sprite Photo Gallery


 Cosmic Rays in the Atmosphere

Updated: Sept.3, 2016 // Next Flight: Sept. 10, 2016

Sept. 3, 2016: On Sept. 2nd, and the students of Earth to Sky Calculus conducted a successful transcontinental launch of two space weather balloons--one from New Hampshire and another from California. The New Hampshire balloon recorded the highest levels of atmospheric radiation since our monitoring program began two years ago. Students are reducing the data now, and we will report the results in the coming week.

While you wait, here is a shot of the Atlantic coast of Maine taken during the Sept. 2nd balloon flight from an altitude of 118,000 feet:


Approximately once a week, and the students of Earth to Sky Calculus fly space weather balloons to the stratosphere over California. These balloons are equipped with radiation sensors that detect cosmic rays, a surprisingly "down to Earth" form of space weather. Cosmic rays can seed cloudstrigger lightning, and penetrate commercial airplanes. Furthermore, there are studies ( #1,#2#3#4) linking cosmic rays with cardiac arrhythmias and sudden cardiac death in the general population. Our latest measurements show that cosmic rays are intensifying, with an increase of almost 13% since 2015:


Why are cosmic rays intensifying? The main reason is the sun. Solar storm clouds such as coronal mass ejections (CMEs) sweep aside cosmic rays when they pass by Earth. During Solar Maximum, CMEs are abundant and cosmic rays are held at bay. Now, however, the solar cycle is swinging toward Solar Minimum, allowing cosmic rays to return. Another reason could be the weakening of Earth's magnetic field, which helps protect us from deep-space radiation.

The radiation sensors onboard our helium balloons detect X-rays and gamma-rays in the energy range 10 keV to 20 MeV. These energies span the range of medical X-ray machines and airport security scanners.

The data points in the graph above correspond to the peak of the Reneger-Pfotzer maximum, which lies about 67,000 feet above central California. When cosmic rays crash into Earth's atmosphere, they produce a spray of secondary particles that is most intense at the entrance to the stratosphere. Physicists Eric Reneger and Georg Pfotzer discovered the maximum using balloons in the 1930s and it is what we are measuring today.

THIS RESEARCH IS CROWD-FUNDED: The cosmic ray research presented on is done by students, driven by curiosity, and funded entirely by readers.  Our latest flight over California on Aug. 21st was sponsored by World Tech Toys of Valencia CA.  In exchange for their generous donation of $750, we flew a toy Striker Drone to the edge of space:


HD video and poster-quality images of the drone in space are now being used by World Tech Toys for marketing and outreach--an out-of-this-world bargain.

Our next flights on Sept. 2nd and Sept. 10th need sponsors. Would you like to assist?  Contact Dr. Tony Phillips to make arrangements.

 All Sky Fireball Network

Every night, a network of NASA all-sky cameras scans the skies above the United States for meteoritic fireballs. Automated software maintained by NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office calculates their orbits, velocity, penetration depth in Earth's atmosphere and many other characteristics. Daily results are presented here on

On Sep. 12, 2016, the network reported 20 fireballs.
(18 sporadics, 2 September epsilon Perseids)



In this diagram of the inner solar system, all of the fireball orbits intersect at a single point--Earth. The orbits are color-coded by velocity, from slow (red) to fast (blue). [Larger image] [movies]


 Near Earth Asteroids

Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHAs) are space rocks larger than approximately 100m that can come closer to Earth than 0.05 AU. None of the known PHAs is on a collision course with our planet, although astronomers are finding new ones all the time.

On September 12, 2016 there were 1731 potentially hazardous asteroids.

Recent & Upcoming Earth-asteroid encounters:Asteroid


Miss Distance


2016 RY17

Sep 9

3.6 LD

37 m

2016 QS44

Sep 10

7.9 LD

57 m

2015 KE

Sep 10

14.9 LD

23 m

2016 RH17

Sep 11

6.1 LD

80 m

2016 RO20

Sep 11

2.5 LD

16 m

2016 RP20

Sep 12

12 LD

33 m

2016 QL44

Sep 17

3.6 LD

43 m

2016 QS11

Sep 18

12.2 LD

29 m

2016 RM20

Sep 20

6.2 LD

25 m

2009 UG

Sep 30

7.3 LD

101 m

2100 Ra-Shalom

Oct 9

58.3 LD

1.1 km

2014 UR

Oct 18

12 LD

21 m

Notes: LD means "Lunar Distance." 1 LD = 384,401 km, the distance between Earth and the Moon. 1 LD also equals 0.00256 AU. MAG is the visual magnitude of the asteroid on the date of closest approach.


Current Conditions

Solar wind
speed: 290.2 km/sec
density: 1.5 protons/cm3

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2209 UTX-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: B1
2244 UT Sep12
24-hr: B1 2244 UT Sep12
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2300 UTDaily Sun: 12 Sep 16New sunspots AR2589 and AR2591 are quiet. Solar flare activity remains low. Credit: SDO/HMI

Sunspot number: 63
What is the sunspot number?
Updated 11 Sep 2016

Spotless Days
Current Stretch: 0 days
2016 total: 20 days (8%) 
2015 total: 0 days (0%) 

2014 total: 1 day (<1%)
2013 total: 0 days (0%)
2012 total: 0 days (0%)
2011 total: 2 days (<1%)
2010 total: 51 days (14%)
2009 total: 260 days (71%)

Updated 11 Sep 2016

The Radio Sun
10.7 cm flux: 93 sfu

explanation | more data
Updated 11 Sep 2016

Current Auroral Oval:


Switch to: Europe, USA, New Zealand, Antarctica
Credit: NOAA/OvationPlanetary K-index
Now: Kp= 1 quiet
24-hr max: Kp= 3
explanation | more data
Interplanetary Mag. Field
Btotal: 6.3 nT
Bz: 4.3 nT south

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2211 UTCoronal Holes: 12 Sep 16
Earth is under the influence of a stream of solar wind flowing from the indicated southern coronal hole. Credit: NASA/SDO.Noctilucent Clouds NASA's AIM spacecraft has suffered an anomaly, and a software patch is required to fix it. As a result, current noctilucent cloud images will not return until late September 2016.


Switch view: Europe, USA, Asia, PolarUpdated at: 08-06-2016 16:55:02

NOAA Forecasts

Updated at: 2016 Sep 12 2200 UTC


0-24 hr

24-48 hr


01 %

01 %


01 %

01 %

Geomagnetic Storms:
Probabilities for significant disturbances in Earth's magnetic field are given for three activity levels: activeminor stormsevere stormUpdated at: 2016 Sep 12 2200 UTCMid-latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


15 %

10 %


05 %

05 %


01 %

01 %

High latitudes

0-24 hr

24-48 hr


15 %

15 %


20 %

20 %


20 %

15 %